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Fracking battle heats up: leaked Osborne letter shows plan to force permits through

Chris Satori
Conservative Chancellor
George OsborneCuadrilla will be seeking a deferment to the decision on their Fylde fracking applications at tomorrow's meeting of Lancashire County Council's (LCC) Development Control Committee. The committee will initially decide whether to defer or whether to take the decisions this week. If the latter, the meeting is expected to last through until  Friday from 10am daily.  The Hall is fully booked and demonstrators are expected outside (info below).

Cuadrilla's request to postpone came within a day of LCC officers publishing their recommendation that the applications be refused (see our previous story 'County Council planning report recommends refusal of fracking applications') last Wednesday.

Over 200 local businesses publish letter of objection
Over 20,000 objections to Cuadrilla's applications were lodged by individuals, businesses and stakeholder groups. A petition with over 6000 names was organised in the area local to the planned fracking sites, calling on LCC to refuse the applications. Polls taken in Lancashire show an opposition of over 85% and today a letter signed by over 200 local businesses was delivered to LCC opposing the plans. You can read their letter and the list of signatories here.

Leaked Osborne letter shows plans to overrule electorate on fracking
Yesterday The Guardian published a leaked copy of a 5-page letter from Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, written in September, to his Cabinet Colleagues in which he requests that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking as a “personal priority”. He requires that they 'implement the development of 3-4 exemplar sites to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration.' It makes chilling reading and  you can download the letter in full here.

Government to obey Cuadrilla's 'asks'
At the top of George Osborne's list is 'respond to the asks from Cuadrilla over which the government has influence',  the first of these being to 'Communicate to Lancashire County Council the intention behind the Planning Guidance Requirements', specifically that they leave regulatory concerns to the regulating bodies (a requirement subsequently also referred to specifically in LCC's Recommendation Report). Osborne is delegating government to Cuadrilla itself in matters of fracking and requiring that ministers and our own elected councillors obey the fracking company first.

This is followed on by 'Consider whether to provide additional technical support to Lancashire to help determine current planning applications'. We may need re-educating as we've only got 11 universities in Lancashire.

Secretary of State to take over 
If LCC turns down the applications, he writes, Cuadrilla is to appeal as soon as possible and the Planning Inspectorate is to respond promptly or have the appeal ‘recovered’ by the Secretary of State for decision by ministers.

Further plans include ensuring that the recovery criteria will enable to Secretary of State to recover all future shale applications 'at his discretion'  and a plan to map public sector (particularly MoD land) for potential fracking sites.

Osborne's plan to centralise control
Osborne also outlines his plan to take the responsibilities for regulating all aspects of fracking into a single, centralised, national agency. There's no great urgency as the Environment Agency is currently in the safe hands of the ex-chair of Cuadrilla partner Arup Group.

The letter goes on to instruct Ministers in the robust promotion of the fracking industry to the EU.

Ollerenshaw 'in the middle'
Last Friday our Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw told a public audience at Lancaster Library that he would support moves to defer any decision on fracking. An amendment to the Infrastructure Bill was brought by the parliamentary all-party Environmental Audit Committee to do that (download their report  'Environmental Risks of Fracking' here.) but was yesterday defeated in Parliament by 308 votes to 52. Labour failed to support it but their amendments for tougher regulation were passed, although Osborne's plan for a centralised, puppet regulatory body is designed to make such amendments ineffective.

Eric Ollerenshaw, who needs all the votes he can get, confided that he was 'in the middle' on Climate Change (which would place him about halfway between the scientists and those who think that it's god punishing homosexuals).

Fracking Executives in top-level Government jobs
The Conservatives are rattled by the vehemence of opposition to fracking, and should be as Executives or directors of Cuadrilla, Centrica, BG Group and BP all sit in the heart of their government and all have vested private interests in Cuadrilla's applications (see report). As does George Osborne's own father-in-law, who called the North-West 'desolate', and thus suitable for fracking.
The descent of the iGas share price, from 144.85p last June to 19.5p today will be focussing all their minds.

Meanwhile the North West Green Party report doubling their registered members over the last few months, with regional registered membership now passing 4000.

ALG fracking Co suspended - water contamination
Today the Sydney Morning Herald reports that fracking company ALG has had to suspend operations this after detection of the toxic chemicals – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes – in water samples taken at two of their sites.   ALG had previously dismissed such possibilities by the now-familiar stratagem of emphasising the particular depth of their operations.

Demonstrate tomorrow
Anti-fracking campaigners will be gathering outside County Hall tomorrow to demand that the Council follow the recommendations of its report and resist pressure from the Government on behalf of its corporate boss, the applicants Cuadrilla. Lancaster people will be catching the 8.27am train.